She with the sultry voice that will make you want her for all time
Leaving your comfort zone and breaking new ground, while necessary, is a concept that scares most artists. A fickle audience is all it takes to remind you of the fine line between hit and flop. But once in a while, a performer feels the need to hit the reset button in order to move forward. Step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, they say.
Even more so if you’ve been performing for as long as God made you, like this month’s covergirl, Nicole Asensio. While it’s possible that you’re only hearing her name for the first time, her body of work may not be entirely unknown to you. You’ve seen her face. You’ve listened to her songs. Many times, in fact.
That’s her all-powerful, almighty voice you hear every time you listen to a General Luna song. The all-female rock band, despite disbanding in 2013, made such a huge mark that their Youtube channel continues to garner viewers to this day.
Many years before that, she was one of Repertory Philippines’ bright young thespians, belting out songs for French musical theater composer Claude-michel Schönberg of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon fame. The year General Luna came to be, she was Mimi Marquez in the local production of RENT.
You even know of her family. Nicole is the daughter of ‘80s singer Iwi Laurel, the granddaughter of famed opera singer Fides Cuyugan-asensio, the niece of theater actor Cocoy Laurel, and the first cousin of fashion designer Rajo and actress Denise. Her lolo and lola are former Vice President Salvador Laurel and singer Celia Diaz Laurel. Her greatgrandfather is no other than former President Jose P. Laurel.
These are names that are forever etched in our culture’s history, and Nicole is bent on carving out her own. For sure, she has a lot of breaking ground and standing out to do, but the foundations have already been laid out.
Enter Schizoprano—the 2015 album that officially launched Nicole as a solo artist. “My grandmother is one of those purist classical singers. When I did the whole rock thing, it was an issue because she was worried about me losing my voice. So we used the term
“schizoprano” to refer to classical singers who would dabble to other genres in terms of vocals,” Nicole says. “There were a lot of itches that I got to scratch with that album. I was able to revisit my roots, which is classical. I tried to incorporate my comfort zone, which is rock. I also tried something new, which is jazz. I guess what I’m trying to grow into is a more versatile performer who isn’t afraid to experiment, collaborate, and create.” Nicole, as primed as she is for the limelight, still has butterflies in her stomach. She embraces the anxiety that consumes a performer before going onstage. It’s a necessary evil that keeps her ready, the provocation she needs to be in her element. “I don’t care if there are two people or 20,000 people in the audience—i’m a nervous wreck before any show,” she admits. “I’ll probably be pacing back and forth in some dark hallway near the stage, trying to psyche myself out. If it gets really bad, I’ll have a beer or whiskey just to calm my nerves.”
Mind you, this is coming from someone who grew up in the public eye. This time, however, things are a tad different. There are no more fellow thespians or bandmates or famous relatives to share the spotlight with. This is why there’s no blaming Nicole for wanting to take her sweet time. She’s about to crack the surface, starting with this
FHM cover. “After the first song, okay na ako. After the performance, I’m just hungry and in the mood for a beer and some laughs. You’ll probably see me hang out with my bandmates and unwind. Laugh for an hour or two. And then I go home.”
Of course, not all those who choose to venture out on their own are met with enthusiasm. A breakup doesn’t necessarily lead to a breakout. Nicole has no problem talking about her decision to pursue a solo career, except she can’t say for sure if that was a decision she made in the first place.
“I do feel like it was time but that didn’t make it any easier because I didn’t know how to be a solo artist,” she explains. “I like being in a band. I do miss the girls. Being on the road, traveling together, getting to know each other so well that it hurts. I’m still in touch with a few of my General Luna bandmates. Bea [Lao], the drummer, is my best friend to this day,” Nicole says.
She adds: “The truth is, I’m more used to working in a group, because I write collaboratively. Even if I am a solo artist by definition, yung galaw ko, pang-banda pa rin. That’s how I like to create. Right now, I work with session musicians. They’re all amazing—i have an allstar lineup [Ira Cruz on guitars; Karel Honasan on bass; Michael Alba, Otep Concepcion, Lawrence Nolan on drums; Nikko Rivera and Kim Lopez on keyboard, and Guevarra Isla Antinero and Lester Sorilla on horns]. It’s nice because it keeps me on my toes. It forces me to adapt to their skills and music and gain and lose a little bit of myself in doing so.”
Here’s the thing perhaps only Nicole has yet to see at this point: that rare humility, along with her creative mind and musical pedigree, is the reason why her career continues to flourish sans General Luna. She was always going to make it. It was always going to be her. The rock gods were always going to be by her side. And standing beside them are the gods of jazz and classical music.